You’re Not Helping

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A contested election. Out of control pandemic numbers. Unemployment. Turmoil.

These are the times we are living in right now. As I write this, there are more people in the hospital with Covid-19 than at any point in the pandemic. In El Paso, there are more people hospitalized than there are in several states. Grim warnings about the holidays and the danger they pose make our regular family get togethers even more complicated. Everything feels so out of control, because it mostly is.

There are some things we do have control over. One of these is your reaction to those who have family members who are fighting the coronavirus or have a family member who died from it. I can’t promise I have always had the correct reaction to news of this sort, but my own experience with this, and with my experience many years ago when my mother was dying of cancer, helped me understand some of the things you shouldn’t say.

I have sadly listened as friends and family members have recounted some of the callous things people have said to them. “Did they take HCQ? That might have helped them.” “How do you know they really died from Covid? The doctors are lying about it to make money.” Or the always classic, “I don’t think that is what (insert family member’s name here) died from. People are putting that on death certificates because they hate Trump.”

Even if every one of these statements were valid (and I can assure you, they’re not), what in the world would make you think this is comforting to grieving people?

When my mother died from cancer, she was 50. A beautiful, elegant and quiet woman, she really never looked a day over 40. I was 21 when she died, and now that I am older, I understand even better how young she really was and how much of her life was snuffed out by cancer. I remember the words of well meaning friends that, in their efforts to say something comforting, instead said things that were tortuous at the time. For example:

“Your mom looks so good. Surely she isn’t really that sick (said two days before her death).” “Well, you knew her death was coming, right? That must have helped.” “Don’t you think your mom would want you to move on after her death? She wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

I could give you more, but you get the idea. I truly believe all of the things people said were said out of love and trying to help, but the truth is, there are no words, no pat answers, that can make the grief and helplessness better. What most people meant to help usually came off as dismissive. The only things people said that were of comfort were things like, “I love you and your family.” “I’m so sorry.” or, “I thought a lot of your mom. I am praying for you all.”

Relating all of this to the comfort of our friends and acquaintances who are going through Covid in a more personal way than you are: if you truly want to comfort someone, but don’t know what to say: nothing is better than saying something you shouldn’t. Relating how most of the people you know that had Covid were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms only makes things worse. Asking tons of specific questions about treatment is often exhausting to the person answering all of those questions. And if you are going to bring up your own politicized views about covid to a grieving person, just go ahead and slap them in the face while your saying them, because that is exactly what it feels like.

If you really want to help someone, and we now all know someone who has lost a loved one to this disease, try following the mitigation efforts so we can put this behind us. Acknowledge their grief instead of trying to minimize it. Send a card. Show support. If you’re a praying person, pray for comfort for those affected. And try your best not to stick your foot in your mouth and make someone who is already heartsick feel even worse. I can’t promise I will always succeed, but I am going to give it my best effort. I hope you will, too.

God Is With Us

Growing up in the Bible Belt, I have heard the term “Emmanuel” my whole life. Emmanuel means “God is with us.” This is a belief that has been part of me for as long as I can remember. God is always with us, right? I accepted this the same way I accepted my mother’s love for me and so many other things I have always taken for granted. But the truth is, I never understood this concept until a crisis happened and I saw, in utmost clarity, what Emmanuel means in my daily life.

After weeks of not feeling well, I wound up in the hospital where my surgeon suggested exploratory surgery because the doctors were having little success in figuring out what was wrong with me. When you’re feeling terrible, you will agree to almost anything if you think it will make you feel better. So I told her to go for it, but the rest of the day was a fog to me and the only details I know are what were communicated to me afterwards. What started out as exploratory ended up being extensive, and I spent nine more days in the hospital recovering.

There may be some self-help books out there that would tell you how to handle devastating news, like when a doctor uses terms like Stage Four, terminal and no cure. When your husband and daughter look at you with smiles plastered on their faces, trying desperately to mask the pain and fear they are feeling, when they talk about how strong you are and how hard you will fight, when all you know at that moment is you are so weak you can barely talk, and the NG tube in your nose that goes to your stomach is simultaneously gagging you and making it impossible to breathe through your nose. When all of the sadness, the reality that life has turned on a dime, and the absolute weight of the prognosis crushes and terrifies you.

God is always with us.

The first sign of Emmanuel were the flowers. First one bouquet, then three, then ten. Flowers from family, flowers from friends, flowers from heaven. The beauty and encouragement from them helped sustain me when I didn’t have a shred of strength inside of me to do so. My daughter and her fiance flew in from California as soon as humanly possible, dropping everything to be by my side. And my sweet, sweet husband, who rarely left my side while I was recovering, kept me laughing even when I felt like crying.

God is always with us.

Within a couple of days, texts, calls messages, and cards started coming, and coming, and coming. Messages of love, concern, hope and prayers. All of these helped carry me when I was too weak to really fight for myself.

God is always with us.

The day I came home from the hospital, my husband told me we were going to walk through to the back door of the house, by the patio. I didn’t think much of it at first, because I really couldn’t walk very steadily on my own, but as soon as I turned the corner and started that way, I saw that my back patio was…. different. My patio, which was looking pretty shabby because I hadn’t felt well enough this spring to clean it up like I normally would, looked like a paradise. There were flowers everywhere, a rug under our old metal gliders, colorful pillows thrown here and there. I felt like a contestant on Extreme Home Makeover. I cried and cried at the goodness of a group of friends that knew I would love this and conspired to make it happen.

God is always with us.

I could list so many more wonderful things that people have done for me since all of this happened, but I will mention just two more: a former student, when she heard of my situation, took the time to write a letter to me stating how my life had impacted hers. Another group of students from the 1990s sent a lovely bouquet of flowers to let me know they were cheering me on. Both things absolutely wrecked me.

I have seen the evidence of Emmanuel. Emmanuel isn’t just an abstract, mystical concept. God is with us through the acts of love shown by friends, by strangers, by family. People reaching out to help, trying their best to give comfort. If that isn’t God with us, I don’t know what is. And even more than this, we all have this capacity. All of us. We have the power to change lives with loving acts of kindness. This is the power that will save us, not government or money or jobs or luck. God is with us and has given us the ability to make things better through love. I am forever changed for the better because of the love and blessings of so many sweet and wonderful people. Even in the darkest of days, there is light.

Take the Leap of Faith

“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is the glue.” Eugene O’Neill

When my daughter was born in 1994, she was six weeks early. Her lungs were not fully developed; instead of crying at birth, she let out a soft sigh. My new mother’s instinct and the demeanor of the doctor and the nurses in the room told me that something was very, very wrong. Where there should have been sounds of elation and happiness, the room was grim and quiet.

“Why isn’t she crying?” I asked. “Shouldn’t she be crying?”

One of the attending nurses said in a voice that was far too bright, “Just having a little breathing problem!” She said like it one might say, “Oops! I accidentally dropped my cookie!” I knew instantly that things weren’t normal as they quickly whisked her to another room. No holding my newly-born baby, no bonding, no anything. “The little breathing problem” had to be tended to, stat.

There is a more than happy ending to this real life story: the doctor said we would need to transfer my daughter, only a couple of hours old, to a hospital with a neonate facility to help her underdeveloped lungs. She would be medi-flighted there. I asked him which hospital he recommended and he said OU Children’s Medical Center. It was the first decision Marty and I made as parents, and we had only been parents for around 120 minutes. Our daughter was flown to Children’s and she received lifesaving care. She is now a healthy, happy, 27-year-old woman with endless possibilities in front of her. It is a part of her life story I now remember with gratitude, not fear.

Was I afraid? Beyond description. Lots of scenarios flew through my brain: what if the helicopter crashes? What if I never get to hold my baby? What if the diagnosis is wrong and the treatment doesn’t work? What if I choose the wrong facility, and my baby dies because I picked incorrectly?

What if, what if, what if?

We live a lot of our lives asking this question. If my daughter had been born in the early 1960s, she would have died. The lifesaving ability of surfactants to quickly spur lung development in premature infants had not yet been discovered. As my doctor informed me, President John F. Kennedy had a child born in this same situation, and that baby did not survive. My child had a chance. So by God’s grace and a leap of faith, we made a decision. We put our baby girl on a helicopter. We hadn’t even had the opportunity to hold her in our arms yet.

The Covid vaccines are not without risk. Being hesitant to take the vaccine is very understandable, but hear this: sometimes there is no clear cut, easy answer to complex problems like pandemics. We have to rely on science, on experts we don’t always trust because we know they make mistakes, and take the leap of faith. We have to quit asking what if, and make the decision that will have the most benefit.

As I think about people I know who died from Covid, about friends who watched their loved ones struggle to breathe their final breaths before they died from this disease, about health care workers who watched patient after patient die, I know one thing: for most people, taking the vaccine is a leap of faith that is worth the risk. Saving lives is worth it. Being able to have a somewhat normal daily life is worth it. Hugging friends and family makes the vaccine worth it.

Taking the vaccine is less risky than getting in your car and driving down the street. We are willing to risk getting behind the steering wheel of a car, and even putting our precious children in cars, because there is cultural acceptance that the gain is far greater than the risk. We have statistical data to prove that approximately 1.35 million people die internationally each year in car crashes. An additional 20-50 million suffer non-fatal injuries. Yet we continue to get in our cars every day with that knowledge.

If you have vaccine hesitancy, I get it. There are real risks. Think about what your hesitancy and the hesitancy of others does to everyone else. It is going to be impossible to get this pandemic under control if enough people aren’t vaccinated. And if you think this disease is political know this: Covid-19 kills Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. It is astonishingly apolitical. It is no more political than influenza, polio, or potato salad. Like most diseases, some populations are more at risk than others, but there are numerous examples of people who have suffered the effects of this disease that truly have no risk factors.

I had the Pfizer vaccine, both doses, and am now fully vaccinated. If it helps even one person to stay healthy and alive, it is worth the side effects I had to endure. If it makes it possible for our vibrant American culture to once again flourish, it is worth it. If it makes it possible for me to not have to wear a mask in public places, it is worth it.

Having reservations is normal. Take the leap of faith.

When Groundhog Day is Deadly

In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a cynical weatherman covering Punxsutawney Phil on February 2. After a series of fantastic occurrences, he ends up getting trapped in an endless time loop where February 2 is replayed over and over again. No matter how hard he tries, he is unable to escape the endless cycle.

This is what it is like to be Black in America, only with much deadlier consequences.

If you doubt this proposition, here’s a look at events of just the past few days: the Army lieutenant who was pepper sprayed, the story of a Roswell, Georgia preschool not serving their black children food while the white children beside them ate, and now the killing of a 20-year-old black man at a routine traffic stop because a 26-year veteran of a police force made the mistake of pulling out her service weapon instead of her taser.

I am disgusted, horrified, and sickened by all of this. But I am white, so all I can say about how I feel is, so what?

So what if I’m horrified? I don’t have to worry about my son or daughter every time they get behind the wheel of a car. I don’t have to worry they might be pulled over because air fresheners are dangling from the rear view mirror. I don’t have to worry that if they react a certain way, an officer might just go ahead and shoot them at a traffic stop.

If I am honest with myself, and ask myself if I had been the person in this situation instead of Wright, would it have ended differently because I was white? The answer is absolutely, unequivocally, YES. First of all, I probably wouldn’t have been stopped, period. Secondly, if I had panicked and gotten back in my car the officer wouldn’t have tazed me, much less shot and killed me. The ugly truth is Daunte Wright, and George Floyd before him, never really had a chance for equal treatment under the law because people of color still don’t have it.

As historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote so eloquently, “Mr. Floyd and Mr. Wright are not on trial. Whether they abused drugs, or passed bad bills, or did something that warranted arrest, or did all of those things or none of them simply does not matter. What is on trial is the fundamental American principle of equality before the law.”

Instead of facing the ugly truth of systemic racism, it is easier to pretend it isn’t there. It is far easier to say things that don’t really help like, “it’s a heart issue, not a systems issue.” Yes, people have racism in their hearts. But if we really believe in equal rights under the law, as our constitution says, we better take a long, hard look at our systems and root out and destroy the elements which perpetuate racist treatment.

Until that happens, it will be like Groundhog Day, an endless loop where people of color live in fear for their families and children, where each day brings a new and horrific story of another person’s life snuffed out needlessly, of police departments explaining why officers acted in a way they shouldn’t have.

I am tired of having to tell my friends of color how sorry I am for yet another example of racism in everyday situations, because sorry doesn’t change a thing. Some of you may think I am stuck on my own Groundhog Day-like pattern, writing about racism again, but here’s the thing:

Either we keep talking about it, writing about it, and pointing out injustice we see almost every day until it changes, or we are part of the problem.

Some of you will want to ask why Daunte Wright got back in his car when he was asked not to by the police. Fair question. Based on recent events, would you fear for your life if you were stopped by the police if you were a person of color? I would be terrified. I would probably be looking for a way to escape so I wouldn’t end up dead.

But hey. It was just an accident. Just a case of pulling out the wrong weapon. A tragic mistake.

The tragic mistake will be if we, as a nation, don’t take this moment in time to reform policies and procedures that make incidents like these a nearly daily occurrence. At my church right now, we are doing a series called “Deep Clean.” The time is now for all of us to do a deep cleaning of our systems, our hearts, and our beliefs, because even though we may look pretty well kept at first glance, there’s obviously a lot of hidden filth that needs to be eradicated. Until every single person in this country has equal justice, until every mother and father can go to bed at night without worry that their children will be targeted, until every person of color can be pulled over in a traffic stop or go out for a jog without fearing death, I am going to keep writing about and talking about this. It is the biggest issue our country faces today, and the one it has chosen not to face head on for 150 years. We can’t wait any longer.

The Spring of Our Discontent

One of my favorite times of year is finally here. It’s spring, and every day the world has more and more color. The browns and grays of winter are replaced by the spring green of new grasses, redbud trees bursting with their special purple-red blooms, wild plum trees covered in white flowers, golden daffodils, tulips of every shade. It is a feast for the eyes, and I can’t get enough of it.

We have much reason to feel hopeful right now for other reasons as well. The COVID pandemic seems to be waning as large numbers of people have received vaccines. The CDC has even recommended that we can stand closer together (3 feet instead of 6) in public places. March Madness is happening, after being abruptly shut down last year. Businesses nationwide are reopening, and there is a palpable feeling of optimism.

This beauty and optimism, however, has been splattered with the horror of mass shootings. It is sickening, saddening, and must be stopped.

I am not a person that thinks no one should own a gun. I live in southeast Oklahoma: home to Bigfoot and a true hunter’s paradise. We have had guns in my home my entire adult life. We keep a .38 special under the mattress should we need it in the middle of the night.

Our Founding Fathers could not have foreseen the weapons of destruction that ordinary Americans now have access to. Weapons that have the capacity to kill a score of innocent people in less than a minute. Weapons not designed for self defense or hunting, but for one thing and one thing only: to kill as many people in as short a time as possible.

I certainly believe in the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. But what about the right to walk into a grocery store without a fear of being gunned down? What about our poor children, who must go through active shooter drills because some madman might decide it is his day to commit carnage? As a child, the thought of someone doing such a thing was nonexistent to me. I realize we live in a different world now, but do these military style weapons make anyone’s quality of life better?

After the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012, the state of Connecticut decided to take action after a gunman killed 20 beautiful children and six adults. The state passed a major gun control bill the next year requiring universal background checks for all firearm purchases as well as a ban of high capacity magazine sales (10 rounds or more). Connecticut also banned the sale of over 100 types of guns.

Connecticut was once considered the “arsenal of the nation” because of the arms manufacturers that were based there (Colt, Wesson, Remington, Winchester), but it is no longer home to these companies due to bankruptcy issues or the plants moving to more “arms friendly” states.

There has not been another mass shooting in Connecticut since Sandy Hook.

Where do individual rights end and public safety rights begin? Antonin Scalia, a widely respected conservative Supreme Court justice, once said,  “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited” and that it is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” 

Congress has been famously inept at figuring out what to do about mass shootings. Other democracies around the world seem to understand the concept that lack of restrictions on every single type of weapon is a bad idea. Self defense is important, and undoubtedly a constitutional right. But turning our heads and shrugging our shoulders, or sending “thoughts and prayers” to the families of victims has worn altogether so thin that most people roll their eyes (or worse) when they hear this response to yet another mass shooting. Whatever liberties we have in this country have always been tempered by the responsible exercise thereof: there are always duties and parameters that come with freedom. We cannot give impassioned pleas about unborn children’s “right to life” without also addressing our citizens’ right to move about in public places without the fear of never making it home.

Wedding Jitters

I have wedding jitters.

I’m not getting married, in case you were wondering or downright puzzled. My daughter is getting married in a few short months. Because she lives halfway across the country in California, she is doing almost all of the planning herself, so that is pretty easy on me. She is doing what lots of modern brides do: she has an extensive Pinterest board full of thematic colors, ideas for food, decorations, etc. She has ordered her dress– custom made online. She has designed and sent out invitations to the ceremony, a smallish affair of mostly family due to the pandemic and the fact that her family is half a continent away. There is a wedding planner who is helping with all of the minutiae and details that need to be addressed.

So why do I have jitters?

First of all, it’s not because I am worried about who she is marrying. Her fiance is a wonderful young man who makes her wildly happy. They have been together long enough to have a pretty good idea of what each of them is like. They have mutual interests, are getting premarital counseling, and have good jobs. When I see them together, it is obvious they are crazy about each other. They seem to have things together as much as any young couple ever does. And we all know there will be plenty of surprises to come.

When my daughter called and told me the wedding date, the jitters set in. I was caught totally off guard by these feelings. After all, they have been engaged for over two years, and planned to get married sooner, but like everything else in the past year, the pandemic threw a monkey wrench in the planning. So I have had A LOT of time to mentally prepare myself.

So why do I have jitters?

When I think about my daughter getting married, my mind’s eye speeds back to when she was three or four, and used to plan her wedding, or as she called it, The Pink Wedding. She had a flimsy, powder pink nightgown that she thought would make the ideal dress. She was pretty sure she could use a big boom box for the wedding music, and planned to have all pink foods at the reception (not sure what she thought those would be). She had some pink slippers that made dandy wedding shoes, and a tiara encrusted with plastic diamonds that would make any bride proud. Like a sleight of hand from a magician, the memory seems so fresh, but then in an instant, seems a lifetime ago. How did this happen so fast, and why I am I not better mentally prepared?

I think the jitters come from the knowledge that marriage, despite the numerous books, manuals and seminars, is still one of the most unexplainable, mysterious, wonderful relationships in life. I am so fortunate to have married the greatest guy in the world, one who has my back always, supports me, loves me when I am oh so unlovable. We have shared all of the best and the worst of each other, and still, we choose each other. We have faced heartache and death and stupidity and happiness and deep sadness, and have always managed to come out on the other side together. I have always detested the term soulmate, so instead, I would rather say Marty is my best friend for life. We are so very different in so many ways: I grew up in the city, he grew up a country boy; I am an educator, he is an artisan; he loves to ride horses, I love to pet them and watch them; I love to read, he falls asleep if he isn’t up and moving. All of that is inconsequential when it comes to the life we share together, because we decided long ago never to give up on one another.

I have the jitters because I want this so much for my daughter and her husband, to have a lifelong bond with a partner who loves you through it all. Someone who is in it for the long game, because, let’s face it, if you’re married long enough, each of you will do things that a person with any sense wouldn’t allow. You will break each other’s hearts. You will annoy the hell out of each other. You will sometimes wonder why anyone would put up with you, and vice versa. And hopefully, you will cling to each other at times like these because the bond is stronger than whatever is trying to break it.

I have happy jitters because I love a good love story, and I love beginnings. There may be nothing more stirring, more inspiring, than a couple’s excitement about starting a life together. It’s why I pretty much always cry at weddings, and I am pretty sure I will cry at this one.

So, here’s to love, commitment, and the willingness to risk marriage, when the world seems a little crazy and the divorce statistics are grim. My jitters will probably subside at some point, but it is breathtaking watching your child take those first steps in building a life with someone else. It’s a lot like watching them take those first steps as a toddler, the first steps into a class at school, or dropping them off at the dorm for the start of college: a loss and a gain at the same time. I like to believe that the gains are always bigger than the losses, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. Much love to you, Kylie and A.J. May you find that the tie that binds is also the tie that makes you strong.

Dr. Seuss, Mr. B, and Cancel Culture

“I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but here on the bottom we too should have rights.” Yertle the Turtle (1958)

Oh, dear heavens! It has been announced that some of Dr. Seuss’ books will no longer be published. Our country is going to hell in a handbasket (one of my grandma’s favorite sayings). How horrible is it that a national treasure like Dr. Seuss is a victim of Cancel Culture?

Um, wait. Take a breath. Before you go on a tirade about the treatment Dr. Seuss is receiving, take a few moments and get some facts. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, an organization started by his family, has decided to cease publication and sales of six of his much lesser known books, due to a “commitment and broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

In other words, the organization that represents Dr. Seuss made this decision on their own. They weren’t told by any group to stop publishing books. They weren’t pressured by political groups. This decision came after months of discussion last year, and was announced this year.

When I first heard this developing story, I thought of Maya Angelou’s quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I remember as a child of about ten, I once made fun of one of our neighbors who lived down the street. Mr. B had a marked limp due to a childhood bout with polio. He was a wonderful, friendly man who was loved by all the kids in our neighborhood. What possessed me to make fun of his limp one day and imitate his gait is beyond me, but I did. My father, who was watching television in the next room, caught my performance and administered swift justice. After a short lecture on the reasons it is wrong to make fun of a handicapped person, he proceeded to give me the worst spanking in my memory. I got the point, and now that I knew better, I did better. I never made fun of Mr. B again, and am still pretty ashamed to admit this even happened.

It appears that DSE is trying to do better because they realize that some images in these lesser known books are questionably racist and demeaning. No one is questioning the greatness of the bulk of Dr. Seuss’ work– far from it. His family and those who represent him are trying to keep his image from being tarnished by some of his earliest writings.

As a lover of literature and of freedom of expression, I have a problem with books being banned. These, however, are not being banned– they are just being taken out of print. Publishers decide all of the time to cease printing books for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes the subject matter, the style of writing, or the plot perhaps no longer holds up in the present. So, in fairness to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, they made a decision to stop publishing six of the more than fifty books written by Dr. Seuss. If it were the government telling them to stop production, that would be a different problem. This is a private group making a decision that they have been transparent about.

Another troubling aspect of this story is that people have latched onto it and turned it into political fodder. “They” are cancelling books. The “left” is trying to control what you read Let’s post on Twitter about Cancel Culture. And on and on and on. A friend of mine pointed out that she loved Dr. Seuss’ books, but had never heard of these six. It is probably because very few people were buying or reading them. And I also suspect some of the people making a big deal about this don’t care all that much about Dr. Seuss, his books, or what they say. A few years ago, this story wouldn’t have made the news at all. The people who live on Righteous Indignation Street have decided that the Libs are trying to control what they read. Who are these libs? Dr. Seuss’ estate, I suppose.

Our country has plenty of division and problems without making this a bigger story than it is. I would love to see us focus on the good this country has and work toward some solutions to the many problems we face. Or as Dr. Seuss would say:

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”-Oh, the Places You’ll Go

What Am I Afraid Of?

I am a privileged, fortunate person. I live in a nice home, modest by most American standards but very cushy compared with homes of underprivileged people in this world. Our home has central heat and air, and I never worry about where my next meal is coming from. We pay our monthly bills without too much sacrifice. When I go places in public, it never crosses my mind that someone might look at me as dangerous or a problem.

I am privileged. So what am I afraid of?

I see racist institutions and behavior, and want to call it out because it is inherently wrong. I sometimes don’t notice racism because in my comfortable, white bubble, it has been there for so long I don’t even notice. I am in the middle of a dilemma because I am a nice, white person.

A sweet friend of mine shared an article, “Dear Nice White People,” by Austin Channing Brown. In the article, Brown calls out people who are “nice” and don’t think they are racist because their personal behavior doesn’t reflect it. Nice people like me just want racist institutions to go away without having the uncomfortable conversations about how our institutions help perpetuate racism without overtly stating that purpose.

I am thankful my friend shared this article with me. Not only did it step on my toes, it took a hammer to them and smashed them– hard. It pointed out that nice white folks like me don’t speak up because we are afraid. What am I afraid of? Here is part of the answer from the article:

“You are afraid they will talk about you, the way they currently talk about your Black, female co-worker. You are afraid you will fall out of the good graces of those with power. You are afraid of not being invited, of not being favored, of not being liked because there are benefits for being liked. You are afraid you will be labeled ‘the problem,’ the person who is ‘not a team player,’ the one who is going to ruin a good time.”

It felt as if this article was written just for me. The article goes on to tell other reasons nice white people like myself are sometimes afraid to speak up. I too, have been afraid to speak up because it has cost me. When I have written about racism or discrimination in systems, it has been met with praise from some readers, but silence from many others. Sometimes it has been met with vitriol and denial. Usually, though, it has been met with….crickets.

It is so uncomfortable to realize you have supported institutions or ideas that promote injustice. I’m not talking about being a member of the KKK or the Proud Boys. I’m talking about the subtle racism in voter suppression, in the hiring practices of many of our institutions, of churches turning a blind eye to racism in the congregation. I’m talking about sweeping generalizations about Black Lives Matter, and the implication that it is a terrible movement because some people who promote it have done some things they shouldn’t. I’m talking about Christian organizations that want our friends of color to stop talking about racism because it makes them feel so uncomfortable, and besides, haven’t they already pointed it out? Can’t we just move on?

I have had friends shun me on social media, because suddenly I am “liberal.” I am a troublemaker and “confused.” This is somewhat stunning to me, because I try not to write people off who don’t think like me. I have even had a few acquaintances tell me to stop trying to “tell them how to think,” when I presented an idea that opposed their views. I have been saddened when people I have known and loved for years write me off because my ideas challenge their thinking and make them uncomfortable.

I must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am a long ways from being the person I want to be, but I am going to keep trying, because that is the only way I know to make this world better. I am going to keep presenting thoughts and facts that challenge the status quo, because that is how society and culture get better. I have to get past the idea that being nice is enough. And I am going to keep pointing out social injustice when I see it, even if the finger sometimes points back at me.

If you are Christian, you must know that God (and Jesus) was against social injustice and oppression. We know this early in the Bible, because the second book of the Bible, Exodus, is about this very thing. God’s people, who have been living as slaves, leave Egypt for the Promised Land. It is a story full of hardship and sadness. There is tragedy, triumph, misunderstanding, and finally, victory for God’s people. Exodus is full of terrible things, but ultimately, greatness. Our friends of color have been on this journey and are tired. Nice white people like me can help make the journey better, or we can keep our heads in the comfortable sand and make sure things don’t really change. We must get over our fears, continue to have hard conversations and even be willing to be shunned or cancelled, and keep doing the hard work of ending racism in this country, and ultimately, in this world. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what’s right.”

Accentuate the Positive

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between”- Johnny Mercer, 1944

This is a love story of sorts.

When this catchy tune was written, America was in the thick of World War II, which was hardly a time most people were feeling warm and fuzzy. The Great Depression was still a fresh memory in most people’s minds, and everyone knew someone– a family member, a friend, or at least an acquaintance– that had gone away to fight the Axis powers and may not ever be coming home. There was rationing, and women who had spent their lives as homemakers became factory workers, filling positions vacated by men away at war. Polio struck the masses regularly, causing death and disability; the Salk vaccine was still over a decade away. It was hardly a time of hope and sweetness: in many respects, not so different from today.

Our problems are different in 2021, but not so different that we cannot draw parallels. There was much reason for despair in 1944. There is plenty of reason for sadness in 2021. I am writing today to ask you to accentuate the positive. Before you stop reading and think that this is another naive post about positive thinking, bear with me, because it isn’t. It is something else quite entirely.

Kierkegaard said, “Life is a mystery to be lived.” He didn’t say life would be fun, or hard, or exciting, or horrendous, because it is all of those things. As I look back to the very darkest days in my life, when there was so much sadness I thought I would drown in the very mire of it, I realize that I am still standing, still here, still feeling both anguish and love, both hurt and happiness. I have optimism not because I pretend to not see what’s wrong in the world, but because I know that love and kindness win in the end. I have optimism because I know that dark days make the bright ones seem that much more brilliant in comparison.

“You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene.”

These days may be the hardest, most mixed up ones you have ever experienced. There may be many things that you have little or no power to change: illness, loss of employment, betrayal, poverty. Life on even the very best days can be hard, but I hang on to the hope that there are better days ahead. Although I may disagree with others about politics, religion, faith, and what the best movie on Netflix is, I have to remember this:

“While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.” Maya Angelou

I don’t always like to think that those who think the opposite of me are God’s creation, but they are. And I must accept that, even though my stubborn spirit wants to say “Hell no!” I have to open my heart and find the good, even when I would rather just write people off. I also hope that those who think I am just this side of the nuthouse will remember this about me, too.

Even though it is currently 3 degrees outside and insanely cold, the sun is shining. And even though I can’t do half the things I would like to do because of the pandemic, I know that the end is in sight. Spring is coming, and this virus will die down. We must look for beauty in the chaos, darkness, and hurt, and most of the time, if we don’t give up, we can find it. Find something or someone to love today, be it a puppy, a person, a good book or a piece of cake. Love the people who are helping those less fortunate, and give money to their causes. Call someone you haven’t talked to lately. Smile at strangers underneath your mask– it will show in your eyes. Live your mystery, and don’t give up. Spring is coming.

An Unlikely American Hero

“We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one,
There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.” -Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

There’s a new kid in town at this weekend’s Super Bowl.

Amanda Gorman, a name very few of us knew before a few weeks ago when she recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the Inauguration on January 20, 2021, has been asked to recite a poem before the most watched sporting event in the world. This is cause for celebration, and for introspection. What is it about what this lovely young woman, who was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, that makes people sit up and take notice?

Gorman reminds us we are Americans, and no matter our politics, we must always strive for unity, justice, and equality. She is the classic steel hand in a velvet glove, using her words like a scalpel, carefully spinning a web of beautiful but sometimes damning images.

She is the the classic story of hope in America.

If one digs a little deeper into her story, Gorman, who was born in Los Angeles and had to overcome a stuttering impediment, has said she has a long term goal of running for president. The Harvard graduate, who is 22 years old, was full of poise and elegance. In discussing her disability, she framed it as a strength that has made her the performer that she always wanted to be.

Even more amazing than Gorman was the poem itself. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what ‘just’ is isn’t always justice.”
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

“And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.”

How can one not be stirred by her words? Her message is hopeful without being naive, poetic without being too didactic or difficult. The simplicity of the message is part of her power.

There are too many wonderful images in the poem to share here, but let me just give you one more, one that I intend to remember and strive for:

“If we’re to live up to our own time,
then victory won’t lie in the blade,
but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being an American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

Some of you will argue that there is no way we can seek unity right now, that our country is too divided, too polarized. Our past tells us otherwise. There are so many instances in our history when things looked terribly bleak, yet still we worked through the problems and made this country better. There are long lists of events in our history to be proud of, but an equally long list of horrors that must be addressed and dealt with. This is the hard, messy work of democracy. It takes all of us, not just our representatives and leaders, to make this happen.

It took a 22-year-old Black American, the daughter of a single mother and descendant of slaves, to remind us so eloquently of who we are and who we strive to be. The fact that the Super Bowl has chosen to include her the festivities is surprising, momentous, and worth celebrating. I’m not a football fan, but I can hardly wait to hear what she has to say. And even though most people tune in for the poetry in motion on the field (or for the commercials), including Gorman to the program is as American as football.

The Power of Life and Death

This is not a political post. It is a post about decency and how we treat our fellow friends and neighbors, how we treat those we know and those we have never met. I am asking you to consider the power of words, and their ability to destroy as well as to encourage.

The Bible puts it this way: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit-” Proverbs 18:21. Most Christians are familiar with this verse, and even if you’re not a Christian, many of you would agree with its premise: the words we use have power. Power to help. Power to hurt. Power to incite strong feelings of love, hate, kindness and violence.

An incident that happened yesterday sparked these thoughts. President Biden signed an executive order directing federal employees and agencies to refrain from using language that “exhibits or contributes to racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.” In more simplistic terms, those who work for federal agencies are prohibited from using terms like “China Virus,” “Kung Flu,” or “Wuhan Virus.” Scrolling through social media last night, I saw several memes from people that noted how this was foolishness, or at its worst, a violation of freedom of speech.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed since last March when the pandemic began. According to Angela Gover, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Colorado, this is not the first time in the U.S that infections have been blamed on immigrant minorities. In the nineteenth century, cholera was referred to as the “Irish Disease.” Jewish people were blamed for the spread of tuberculosis. In the twentieth century, Italian immigrants were often blamed for polio. Many people today are completely unaware that the “Spanish flu” of the early twentieth century did not originate with Spanish people or in Spain.

Also, according to the FBI: “COVID-19 has enabled the spread of racism and created national insecurity, fear of foreigners, and general xenophobia, which may be related to the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic.” In the three months after the pandemic started, over 800 discrimination and harassment incidents against Asian Americans in California occurred. Over 800. In three short months. In one state.

When I saw one of these posts decrying Biden’s executive order, I felt compelled to respond. I may have lost my mind for a minute, because I knew the outcome probably wouldn’t be good. It went something like this:

Here is the original post: “So, Biden signed an Executive Order to ban the use of the term “China Virus.”

Here are some of the responses (no grammatical corrections, verbatim):

“China China China my first amendment rights under the constitution says I can say it despite his little pen”

“KUNG FLU”

“The Yellow Man Virus”

“Slanty eyed virus will work”

There are more, but this is a pretty good representation. When I pointed out (when all common sense left me) that the executive order never used the words “China Virus,” I was shot down immediately and told that I was following a socialist agenda, and that censorship is so widespread that I was obviously missing the real point, which is any speech restriction is a violation of our First Amendment rights. I even put a link to the actual executive order, but am pretty sure most of the people using racist language didn’t bother to read it.

I also think a few people may need a refresher on what rights are guaranteed in our First Amendment when it comes to speech.

According to Cornell School of Law, “Although the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause limits government regulation of private speech, it does not restrict the government when the government speaks for itself.”

All of this aside, most of us learned in Kindergarten, in Sunday School, and from our parents that words can cause physical and emotional harm. This is hardly a novel idea. If there is a correlation between using terms like “China Virus” and hate crimes, why would anyone want to use them? You may want to search your heart and ask why there is a need to demonize an entire population.

I am not giving myself a pass in this behavior, either. Although I may not have used these particular terms, I know through the years I have thoughtlessly said things that could be hurtful to others based on ethnicity. I am trying to be more cognizant of doing this, because I don’t want to be part of the problem.

I have no problem with you if your politics don’t agree with mine, and I am not asking anyone to like or dislike Biden. In this country, you have a choice to support candidates of your choosing. But what ethical or moral dilemma are you facing if you simply don’t use derogatory, hurtful terms like “China Virus?” Does it make your life miserable? Are you losing money? Is it really so difficult to use the term COVID-19?

Jesus has stern words for people who don’t control the use of language: “How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” Matthew 12:34-37 (MSG version).

If you are using words to harm JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN, you are promoting terrible behavior and racist ideas. Are we so drunk with the idea of individual freedom that we have given up any responsibility for the consequences of our words?